Illinois State University Vidette, April 2, 1980

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Elvis Costello 'Happy' but still hungry


Randy Mix

Elvis Costello, the hair-trigger neurotic peering out from behind his thick, black-rimmed glasses at a world in which he's a perennial misfit, has recorded what may prove to be the best album of his career.

Get Happy!! showers the listener with a rapid-fire barrage of sonic ammunition fueled by the brevity and instrumental sparing of the album's songs. As they gain familiarity with the listener, they reveal the turbulent depths of Costello's songwriting which spawned the "angry young man" posture evident in his compositions.

On a sheer quantitative level, Get Happy!! is immense. Its twenty tracks present a good deal to decipher, but they hold some of Costello's best songwriting to date for those willing to do so. Costello's angst, not as confined to adolescent matters as is The Who's, is pure, and while not as visible as on past outings, is every bit as biting.

Costello understands only too well the misshapen world we live in; his venomous anthems of frustration, rejection and leering cynicism are testament to that. Side one's best track, "Opportunity," is a scathing renouncement of unbridled greed; its consequences hovering overhead like a pack of hungry vultures. Costello's treatment of the foreboding chorus "Whatever you do, don't turn around" dares us to continue in our pillage, and wait to detonate themselves upon our first look backwards at the rubble.

"Motel Matches" is the story of a squandered romance; begun "in progress" — without a beginning — consummated too soon, and discarded with indifference one saves for an empty matchbook. It is perhaps his finest effort at depicting the less-noble side of male-female relations.

Nick Lowe's production is typically impeccable, but it is not devoid of the essential rough edges and emotional fervor that much contemporary work (namely that of Mike Flicker and Peter Asher) lacks. Lowe makes good use of compression and echo, giving the record variance between the streams of songs on either side, that had they not been so recorded, would have had a tendency to run together, and subsequently lose their individuality.

Get Happy!! is a rare record; rare in its quality and breadth of songwriting, production, musicianship (The Attractions are second only to Springsteen's E Street Band in their strength as a backing unit), and most importantly of all, its emotional content. Elvis means what he says and says what he means, a feat not as easily accomplished as it sounds in a world where compromise is the foremost rule for survival.

Costello and Get Happy!! exist strictly and unequivocally on their own terms, and that's what makes them so valuable. Get Happy!! is nothing less than an unqualified success. Oh — but there is one thing missing from Get Happy!!: a encircling the album's jacket emblazoned with the legend FOR MALCONTENTS ONLY.

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The Vidette, April 2, 1980


Randy Mix reviews Get Happy!!.

Images

1980-04-02 Illinois State University Vidette page 08 clipping 01.jpg
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1980-04-02 Illinois State University Vidette page 08.jpg
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